Never, ever did I think I would ever see the day that I would consider returning to medicine.
For the last five years, I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that I got out. My whole life has been completely tranformed – I am happier, healthier, professionally more fulfilled. Indeed, my work as a careers mentor for doctors is all about fighting what I see as an inherently abusive system that treats doctors without humanity, restricts their personal growth, and traps them in a state of obligation by effectively decimating their sense of self-confidence and worth. I am the Disillusioned Medic, for crying out loud!
And yet here I am, my finger hovering over the Send button of an email to the GMC, telling them I am willing to come back. As Covid-19 sweeps across our societies, condemning health services to a swift descent into crisis and taking healthcare workers with it, it seems inevitable that the time will come that extra support will be desperately needed.
We’ve heard today that the government is proposing emergncy legislation that would allow them to call retired doctors back. Of course, there are many issues with this plan – namely that a significant proportion of retired doctors will be in the age bracket most at risk from the novel coronavirus. When I first heard about it, the thought that immediately came to my mind what that I am essentially a retired doctor, but young. I realise that youth is not a complete protection, but would doctors like me be a safer option if (and, probably, when) the call goes out?
And then there are the issues of indemnity, revalidation… I’ve joined a Facebook group called Covid Returning Doctors Support which is keeping an eye on the situation, and it seems that temporary licenses to practise could be granted under emergency circumstances without having to go through revalidation, and NHS indemnity might cover people like us. I guess in this situation, rules might have to be bent, but I still can’t shake my sense of suspicion and distrust of the GMC. I would be completely unsurprised if, after this is all over, the GMC, in all their scape-goating goodness, were to pin failures and deaths on returning volunteers. It’s sad to have those thoughts, but given what’s happened in the last few years with doctors like Chris Day and Hadiza Bawa-Garba, I certainly am not the only one. Trust has been so broken down that I’m not sure even an apocalypse can bring it back.
I won’t deny, there is a sense of thrill at the thought of returning to the frontline. It’s similar to the naive anticipation I had when I was applying to med school, but now it’s mixed with real memories of things I liked about medicine – little things I was good at, like getting cannulas into tricky veins. Would I still be able to do that? It’s been five years since I did any sort of venepuncture, let alone any oher clinical procedure… On one hand I feel the need to offer the precious skills and experience I have, but on the other, I worry that it’s simply been too long. Would I be too rusty to be of use? Would I get in the way, or make things worse?
And what about the risk? We’ve all heard about the appalling lack of PPE and testing for healthcare professionals. We also don’t yet know why this virus seems to be killing young and otherwise healthy hospital workers… I’m a mother now, and it’s scary.
Of couse, it’s all still hypothetical – for now. The proposed legislation is due to be debated in Parliament next week, but the way the projections for this outbreak are looking, I can’t see the UK going into the peak of the curve without needing back-up from the ex-doctor community. I have a statistician friend who is currently working flat out on a report that will project the number of critical care beds we’re going to need, which in turn will influence the estimated number of clinicians needed, so it shouldn’t be long now. (Incidentally, are scientists not amazing?? I hope our species appreciates them more after this.)
I am struggling with the feelings of duty and obligation – the very feelings I worked so hard to rid myself of when I left, the very feelings that once left me with so much crippling guilt. And yet, when I see my friends and former colleagues post on social media about the unthinkable challenges they face and their bravery in doing so, I feel compelled to help. As Emmanuel Macron declared, this is war. And doctors are on the frontline.
I hated practicing medicine, and it definitely is not the career for me. That is not going to change. But this situation is so utterly unprecedented – a threat to human life like never before – so even if I could ease the pressure in some small way, it might be worth the risk.
My finger continues to hover…